May 9, 2014, 2:31 PM EDT
Tiago Splitter was one of the most hyped European transfers in a long time when the Brazilian big man came to the NBA — he was the Spanish league MVP, another in a long line of steals from the Spurs front office. Except he got here and didn’t exactly take the NBA by storm. Gregg Popovich limited his minutes and said he’s a future role player in the league.
Splitter has find his NBA game now, and while he is not a transcendent star he is integral to what the Spurs do and is a huge reason the Spurs are up 2-0 on the Trail Blazers.
Last round LaMarcus Aldridge tore apart the Houston Rockets, forced them to go to a two-bigs lineup with Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, still shot 47.9 percent and had an offensive rating of 115 (points per 100 possessions used in that series). (Stats compiled by the NBA’s Sports VU cameras, via the great John Schuhmann of that site).
Splitter has drawn the Aldridge assignment this series and through two games Aldridge is 8-of-25 when Splitter is on him. In Game 2 Aldridge was 1-of-9 from his preferred left block spot with Splitter on him. The Spurs have contested 38 of Aldridge’s shots in two games (he has hit 15), left him uncontested for just 10. They are making him work for his points.
So many good things flow out of this for the Spurs. First, Splitter single-covering Aldridge lets the other Spurs defenders stay home on three point shooters, lessening that weapon that the Blazers rely on. Second, those missed shots become transition opportunities for the Spurs, who have destroyed the Blazers early in the clock before their defense is set this series.
Behind Aldridge and Lillard, the Blazers have no other shot creators. They don’t have Manu Ginobili to turn to this series and that depth has been a big issue through two games.
Heading back home to Portland, the Blazers will make adjustments — as Schuhmann noted at NBA.com, when Aldridge curled into the lane off a pindown he got good looks. Portland can’t just throw the ball to him in the post now, they have to have him getting the ball on the move.
The Blazers will do it, but it takes them out of their traditional rhythm, their comfort zone. And that is what the Spurs do well, make you uncomfortable with what you prefer to do.
Splitter is a big part of that this series.
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